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S&P Global Ratings starts operations in Saudi Arabia

DUBAI, Oct 23 (Reuters) - S&P Global Ratings has opened a branch in Riyadh after receiving its final licence from Saudi Arabias Capital Market Authority (CMA), it said on Monday, the latest sign of Saudi Arabias efforts to develop its local corporate debt markets.

S&P Global Ratings has appointed Meshari Al-Khaled as S&P Global Ratings managing director and office head for its Saudi Arabian branch.

As Saudi Arabias capital markets evolve to match the size of the countrys economy, there is a prime potential for greater debt issuance, Al-Khaled said in a statement. Only 15 percent of listed companies in Saudi Arabia have a credit rating so there is a significant opportunity for S&P Global Ratings to serve investors through our objective evaluation of risk for governments, corporates and financial institutions.

Companies in the Gulfs largest economy have traditionally relied on bank loans to support their financing requirements. But the impact of lower oil prices have reduced liquidity in the banking sector so the government has taken steps to encourage companies to raise money by selling bonds to reduce pressure on local banks liquidity.

Saudi Arabia has become a key issuer in the international debt markets after selling a $17.5 billion debut international bond last year the largest bond ever sold across emerging markets. Since then the country has also sold a $9 billion international sukuk and some additional $12.5 billion in conventional bonds this year.

But dollar bond issuance from Saudi banks and companies has remained subdued this year, despite investors expectations of a flurry of deals after the establishment of a yield curve by the Saudi Arabia's sovereign deals.

The final license obtained by S&P Global Ratings allows the agency, one of the three major global rating agencies, to conduct credit rating activities in the kingdom.

S&P was the first international credit rating agency to obtain pre-approval from the CMA in October 2016. The other two major foreign credit agencies Fitch and Moodys obtained such permissions in April and July this year, respectively.

(Reporting by Davide Barbuscia. Editing by Jane Merriman)